Why Should I Get a Premarital Agreement?

benefits of a pre-nupMany engaged couples in San Diego contemplate getting a premarital agreement (otherwise known as a prenuptial agreement) before they take their walk down the aisle. However, many future brides and groom never bring the subject up with their future spouse for a variety reasons. For example, parties often misunderstand many elements of the premarital agreement process, are afraid of their partner's reaction, and resent the stigma that getting a premarital agreement equates to a lack of faith in the marital relationship. However, there are many benefits to getting a premarital agreement as explained below which should also be considered by those contemplating a premarital agreement.

Unintended Outcome
All couples who marry in California without signing a formal premarital agreement have entered into a different type of premarital agreement known as the California Community Property Law. If parties to do not contract otherwise, the default family code provisions governing property division and spousal support will apply upon divorce. There are so many rumors, myths, and misconceptions floating around about California divorce law that many divorcing couples are surprised about their legal rights upon divorce. By discussing a premarital agreement with an experienced family law attorney prior to marriage, both parties can become informed regarding default legal provisions. More importantly, the parties can reach agreements to create the outcomes they intend and expect upon divorce.

Many laws regarding spousal support and the division of marital property contain many elements and factors. Further, California family court judges have a lot of discretion to determine fair and reasonable outcomes. Considering these two facts together, the outcome of a California divorce is nearly impossible to predict. A premarital agreement can provide certainty and peace of mind to parties considering divorce. Premarital agreements provide parties with the opportunity to protect businesses, family assets, and future income.

A premarital agreement is relatively inexpensive compared to a contested divorce which is litigated due to the upset expectations of the parties and uncertainty in family law. As recently modeled by California celebrity divorces, the dissolution process can be so lengthy and drawn out that sometimes it can extend longer than the underlying marriage. One disputed issue can result in multiple hearings or even a trial which can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Depending on the complexity of the case, the cost of a premarital agreement will not likely exceed the cost of just one hotly contested issue in a divorce case. Litigating a divorce also comes at a high emotional cost. By resolving the distribution of property and spousal support prior to (or even during) marriage, parties can avoid the emotional turmoil that accompanies divorce litigation.

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Can a Non-Biological Father Really Be on the Hook for Child Support?

February 4, 2014

Non-Biological FatherAfter five years of marriage, famous rapper and producer Timbaland is on the road to divorce according to TMZ. His wife, Monique Mosley, is apparently requesting child support not only for their five-year-old daughter but also for Mosley's ten-year-old child from a previous relationship. Mosley believes that her request is fair because she alleges that Timbaland publicly and privately proclaimed the child as his own. Although it may seem crazy to make a non-biological father fork over money for a kid that isn't even his, we sometimes come across clients who want to know if it is actually a possibility. Although the responsibility to support a non-biological child would typically end upon divorce from the child's mother, a non-bioloigcal father may be ordered to pay child support based on his behavior, rather than his legal status. In other words, the non-biological father may be liable for child support if he holds himself out to the child as the child's parent and the child believes him to be his father.

For example, in the case Clevenger v. Clevenger (1961), Husband was not the natural father yet he put his name on the child's birth certificate, accepted the child into his home and held the child out as his own for over a decade. The court identified a policy by which a non-biological father cannot avoid liability for child support following a divorce from the child's mother if the non-biological father expressly represented himself to be the child's natural father and the child believed him to be the natural father.

Father Walking by BeachAnother example can be examined in the case In re Marriage of Valle (1975), where a husband was ordered to pay support for his in-law's children because he continuously represented that the children were his, the children referred to him as "Daddy" and the children had no contact or memory of their natural parents. The court held that because the non-biological father acted like a parent and his behavior effectively precluded the children from having the opportunity to re-establish a relationship with their natural parents, the court was able to hold him liable for child support.

If you are a non-biological parent and curious whether you may be on the hook for child support, look at whether your day-to-day role is a parent for the child and whether the child has come to see you as being his/her "real" parent. However, note that the latter is sometimes difficult to prove as the non-biological parent would essentially have to interfere with the child's ability to know that someone else is actually the biological parent.

If you are in a situation like Timbaland and his wife and you are curious about your rights regarding requesting or paying child support, contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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Kelly Clarkson Marries With No Premarital Agreement?

Kelly Clarkson marries with no prenupAmerican Idol winner Kelly Clarkson married fiancé Brandon Blackstone on October 20, 2013 in a quiet Tennessee ceremony. Although Clarkson has won 3 Grammys, 4 American Music Awards, and 13 Billboard awards throughout her successful singing career, no premarital agreement was reported before her wedding. Clarkson has been known to frequently "Tweet" about her happy relationship with Blackstone; however, even the happiest couples sign premarital agreements in some cases.

A premarital agreement, often referred to as a "pre-nup," is a contract containing spousal support and/or property division terms that would control in the event of a divorce. Without a premarital agreement, the community property laws of the State of California control property division upon divorce. Celebrities and high powered business people are the first ones to come to mind when discussing pre-nups; however, divorce attorneys report a jump in these agreements between people from all walks of life over the past ten years.

Many family law attorneys attribute the rise in premarital agreements to the fact that more people remarry later in life and are now looking to protect existing separate property assets. In addition, considering that many people are marrying for the second and third time as they get older, they also enter into premarital agreements to protect their children from their first and/or second marriages. Premarital agreements become more crucial when people enter into marriages with a significant amount of wealth or property. However, they can be entered into by any couple when they marry and can be altered over time as the parties acquire wealth and property.

If a couple marries without a premarital agreement but later wish they had taken that legal step, they have the option of entering into a post-nuptial agreement. A post-nuptial agreement can serve the same purposes as a premarital agreement. The only major difference between a premarital agreement and a post-nuptial agreement is that a post-nuptial agreement is signed after marriage. Therefore if Clarkson and Blackstone would like to reach a legally binding agreement regarding property and/or spousal support in the event of divorce, they could easily do so by signing a post-nuptial agreement.

Many couples avoid premarital agreements
because of the stigma attached to signing one. Engaged couples considering a premarital agreement may not discuss it with their significant others or family in order to avoid accusations that they don't believe their marriage will last. Singing a premarital agreement does not mean that the parties are already considering divorce or that they don't trust each other. In fact, a premarital agreement can be a great tool to get couples talking about financial issues and improve communication on these topics.

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The Significance of Hitting the Ten-Year Mark in Marriage

December 23, 2013

10 year marriageSo you've been married for 9 years and you know your marriage has hit a point where you are ready to get out. Perhaps you and your spouse have talked about your impending divorce or maybe it's just a thought you've had in the back of your mind lately.

Either way, is it worth it to stretch the marriage past that ten-year mark? In California, there are several reasons why it might be in your best interest to reach the ten-year marriage mark before seeking to get a divorce

Spousal Support

There are special spousal support rules in California for marriages that are ten years or longer in duration. If a marriage lasted less than ten years, the court will typically order spousal support for a period equal to one half the length of the marriage. However, for a marriage that lasted more than ten years (from date of marriage to the date of separation), the court recognizes it as a "marriage of long duration". This means that the court retains jurisdiction over spousal support and may not set a termination of spousal support date without the parties' agreement. Thus, the spouse entitled to spousal support may be entitled to receive spousal support for life or until remarriage. The parties will be required to come back to court in the future to determine whether the spousal support obligation will continue.

Military Benefits

A marriage lasting at least ten years is also important if your soon-to-be ex-spouse is in the military and will be eligible for retirement benefits. If you were married for at least ten years and that time overlaps with ten years of military service, then you will be eligible to qualify for direct enforcement. This means that your portion of military retirement pay will be paid directly to you by the military finance office (who will garnish the service member's retirement and pay the ex-spouse directly), rather than the service member writing you a check each month.

Social Security Benefits

Another benefit of a marriage of at least ten years is that the Social Security Administration considers it to be a "long-term marriage," making you eligible for Social Security benefits based on your soon to be ex-spouse's earnings record when you reach the age of retirement (as long as you aren't remarried to another person at the time). Read more about retirement benefits and divorce.

No matter how good the financial benefits seem for a marriage lasting longer than ten years, there are some situations in which you should not wait. If, for instance, there is any danger to you or your children, then it is important for you to focus on your safety rather than the potential benefits of staying in the marriage for a longer period of time.

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Keeping a Divorce Quiet

December 20, 2013

keep divorce a secretWord leaked recently that former Florida congressman and host of MSNBC's "Morning Joe", Joe Scarborough, quietly divorced his wife, Susan Waren, back in January 2013. The couple, who actually filed for divorce in September 2012, was married for 12 years and they have two minor children together. Despite going through a divorce, the couple apparently managed to keep their divorce under wraps.

Many clients who are considering divorce or already in the process of a divorce wonder what they should keep to themselves during a divorce so that they can have a "quiet divorce" like Scarborough. Keeping a divorce quiet will ride on what and how much you share with your children, spouse, friends, coworkers, the Court, etc.

Keeping Quiet With Your Children
If you are going through a divorce and you have children then it is important that you consider drawing boundaries for yourself regarding what you share with the children - especially young children. This doesn't mean that you need to lie or hide things from your children. But rather, information pertaining to the divorce should be rephrased in a manner that won't be as detrimental to the kids' well-being. For instance, your children don't need to know who's "fault" it is that mommy and daddy are getting divorced or what the details are regarding how your assets will be divided. Rather, your children simply need to know that both during and after the divorce they are safe and will be loved by both parents just the same. When it comes to divulging your divorce to your kids, "less is more" if you don't particularly want their teachers, classmates, and friend's parents to know about your private life.

Keeping Quiet With Your Friends, Coworkers, and Spouse
What you discuss with your attorney, both written and oral, is subject to the attorney-client privilege. As the client, you are the holder of the attorney-client privilege and only you can waive that privilege. If you want to keep your divorce quiet and not jeopardize that privilege by publicly disclosing the communication, then don't be too liberal in the information that your share with your friends, spouse, coworkers, etc.

Keeping Quiet With the Judge
If you feel like you need to talk to someone about your spouse or your divorce at large, the Court might not necessarily be your best outlet. The court only wants to hear evidence that is relevant to the issues at hand, separation of assets and debts or valuation of property for instance, not whose fault it is for the divorce. Rather, you might consider meeting with a counselor so that you are able to get everything off your chest in the right setting.

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Child Custody and Visitation - Holiday Timeshare: What Can I Expect?

Child Custody Visitation Holiday TimeshareFor most litigants in San Diego, divorce is a heart-breaking and devastating process. Much of the fear, anxiety and turmoil are created by the many "unknowns" a divorcing spouse faces. If a person is getting divorced for the first time, he or she generally has no idea what to expect with regard to finances and child custody and visitation. Local divorce attorneys can provide a road map of the divorce process but cannot offer solid guarantees for the future. In the beginning of a divorce case where custody and visitation is at issue, many parents ask: "What is normal?" Although there is no general consensus of "normal" in family law, a number of arrangements have become "typical".

With the holidays approaching many divorcing parents are anxious to find out how that first holiday season should be handled. Every set of facts is unique and how the holidays proceed is generally dependent on the relationship between the parties. In some cases the parents are proceeding with an amicable divorce and agree to share the holidays together with their children. Although this might not be the most comfortable arrangement for the parents, it reinforces stability for the children during this tumultuous time. If the parents cannot get along, it may not be advisable to spend holidays together in the presence of the children. Another alternative for parties capable of working productively together is to share the children on each holiday. For example, the children might spend Christmas morning with their mother opening gifts and then later go with their father to enjoy Christmas dinner.

If you are a parent looking to arrange a more long-term child-sharing schedule for the holidays, you might consider the following options:

Alternate Holidays Every Year

Frequently parents set up an "alternating system" in order to fairly distribute holiday time. In this type of system one parent will have the children on certain holidays (for example Christmas and Easter) in even numbered years and have the children on the other holidays (for example Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve) in odd numbered years. The other parent will have the children on the same holidays alternating years. By breaking up the holidays the parties ensure they both have some holiday time with the children each year.

Exchange Holidays Within the Year

In some cases, the parties have different holiday priorities and are able to agree to a holiday schedule wherein they have time with the children on all holidays which are important to them every year. This is possible in situations where one parent celebrates different holidays (Hanukkah) than the other (Christmas). Some families emphasize Christmas Eve while others focus on Christmas Day. The most obvious example of this option would be where the children spend Mother's Day with their mother, and Father's Day with their father. Parents are encouraged to discuss these possibilities when determining an ongoing holiday schedule. In all cases, if a holiday schedule exists, it does take precedent over the general timeshare plan.

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Should I Agree to Non-Modifiable Spousal Support?

December 18, 2013

non-modifiable spousal supportThe issue of spousal support is often a hot topic in divorce proceedings. In today's economy, one specific aspect of spousal support that becomes a very important consideration the couples going through a divorce is whether the spousal support order will be modifiable or non-modifiable. Typically, an agreement for spousal support awarded to either party is subject to subsequent modification or termination by court order. However, Family Code Section 3591(c) provides that the parties may agree in writing (or oral agreement entered into in open court) to non-modifiable spousal support.

Modifiable spousal support means that a party could later file a post-judgment action with the court to request an increase, decrease or termination of spousal support upon demonstration of a change in circumstances that would justify a change to the original spousal support award. There are several reasons that a spousal support order might need to be changed. Perhaps the spouse who is receiving support no longer needs as much spousal support because he/she has had an increase in income or is cohabitating with a person of the opposite sex. Or if the supported spouse remarries, then spousal support needs to be terminated all together. On another note, sometimes the payee spouse, for reasons out of his/her control, has a significant decrease in income and can no longer afford the amount of spousal support that was ordered. The court would likely consider these factors in making a modification to the support order.

Non-modifiable spousal support, on the other hand, means the spousal support award will not be subject to modification or termination. Many divorcing couples may wonder if this is a good idea. The most common reasons why parties would want to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is that it gives both parties a sense of certainty because they know exactly how much they will be paying or receiving each month. This helps parties budget accordingly for future payments and expenses without having to worry that the amount may change at any time. Another reason a party would be inclined to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is if that party is expecting an increase in his/her income or a major upcoming payout, then he/she would not have to share that increase in income with his/her spouse.

While it may seem like there are some pretty good reasons to agree to non-modifiable spousal support, it is important to remember that if the parties waive their right to modify, it does not matter if there is a change in circumstances - a court absolutely will not modify the spousal support award. So, if the party receiving support wins the lottery jackpot, the payor spouse would still be stuck paying spousal support to him/her. Or, on the other hand, if the payor spouse becomes completely disabled and can no longer afford to pay spousal support, he/she will still on the hook for a spousal support payment, despite his/her inability to work.

Despite the uncertainty with modifiable spousal support, parties seem to have greater motivation these days to choose modifiable spousal support due to the high rate of unemployment. To ensure that you make the right decision regarding modifiable or non-modifiable spousal support it may behoove you to seek the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney.

Read reviews of Nancy Bickford, San Diego Divorce Attorney

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Who is on the Hook to Pay For Kids' College After a Divorce?

December 10, 2013

Paying for college after divorceThe cost for a college education can be astronomically high these days. Of course, most parents are still eager for their children to get a college education. However, a major concern for divorcing parents with children is not only how they will pay for college once their child graduates high school, but who exactly will pay for all of the expenses that come with a college education. For some divorcing couples, this might not be an issue if money has already been earmarked for college. For other divorcing couples, the thought of their child being accepted to college can cause bittersweet anxiety.

Generally in California, child support payments will cease when the child reaches the age of 18. Beyond that, divorce attorneys will advise that there is typically no legal obligation for either parent to pay for the child's college education, unless so ordered by the courts. So what happens, for instance, when one of the divorcing parties plans to remarry and ends up having other children who have their own tuition needs? Will he/she even chip in when it comes time to pay for college?

The best way to ease anxiety and secure payment for college expenses from your soon-to-be ex-spouse is to include such an obligation in your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that addresses college support in addition to any child support agreements. An MSA is an agreement between divorcing spouses that addresses issues such as custody, support, and property division. A provision in a Martial Settlement Agreement regarding payment of college expenses will typically include details such as what percentage of college expenses each parent will be responsible for, restrictions on which types of college the provision will apply to (if any), and exactly which expenses will be covered (this may include tuition, room and board, books, extracurricular activities, etc.).

So while there is no legal obligation for one or both of the divorcing parents to pay for their kids' college, absent a court order, it's advisable that the parties not overlook the possibility of including a provision regarding college expenses in their Marital Settlement Agreement. This might serve to save a considerable amount of financial worries down the road and encourage divorcing parents to start setting aside funds for their portion of the future college payments.

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Am I Too Old to File for Divorce? A Look at Divorce After Age 50

December 9, 2013

divorce over age 50Many divorcing couples wonder if there is a point in their life at which time they may be considered "too old" to divorce. Of course, a person may file for divorce in California no matter what their age is. But, still some may wonder if, after a certain age, it is even worth it. Nonetheless, as we have previously blogged, divorce among the over-50 crowd appears to be on the rise. New York Times even reports that "more Americans 50 and older are divorced than widowed, and the numbers are growing as baby boomers live longer".

One such statistic in the over-50 crowd is well known actor, Richard Gere, and his model-actress wife, Carey Lowell, who are reportedly calling it quits after 11 years of marriage. Gere is at the ripe age of 64, while Lowell is 52 years old.

So why are older couples like Gere and Lowell headed for divorce? LA Times reports that the reason for the split between Gere and Lowell is that Gere allegedly enjoys privacy and socializing. For other couples over 50, the possibility of divorce may be more tempting as there is a greater social acceptance of divorce these days. Another reason is that people are living longer and thus still view themselves to be able to get out and have a life after divorce. This is especially the case once the children are grown up and out of the house, at which time it may actually seem easier to get out of a marriage that has grown stale.

The increased economic autonomy of women has also given women over 50 years old a greater likelihood of seeking divorce, even at a later age in life, because many women feel that they have the ability to support themselves and live a stable life after divorce, despite their older age. The increased work experience of women and greater sense of their own responsibilities is often incentive to get out of a marriage rather than to just wait it out.

Although there are many reasons for the rising divorce rate among people over 50 years old, there are also some pretty significant reasons why divorce is not a good idea for the older crowd. One big reason is that older folks have a greater likelihood of being in poor health; an emotionally draining divorce can deteriorate a person's health even more. Those considering divorce over 50 also must consider how a divorce will affect retirement plans. Moreover, divorce between older couples with children may result in placing an even heavier burden on the children to help support each parent financially and emotionally.

If you are over the age of 50 and considering divorce or separation, it is important to seek the advice and assistance of an experienced divorce attorney.

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Obamacare May Make Divorce More Affordable

Divorce, Obamacare, and health insuranceAs we have previously blogged, healthcare can be a big financial concern for divorcing spouses. In many cases, one spouse provides health insurance for the entire family through his or her employer. However, upon divorce, the non-providing spouse must obtain his or her own health insurance. This can be a difficult process if he or she has a pre-existing condition and is denied coverage or if the premiums are prohibitively expensive. Additionally, obtaining health insurance can be especially problematic for those part of the "gray divorce" trend.

Divorce attorneys have noticed that the number of divorces involving spouses over 50 years old has been increasing. This phenomenon is known as the "gray divorce trend". Many spouses in this age group are even holding out to finalize their divorce until they reach the age of 65 and are eligible for Medicare. Another tactic employed by spouses who cannot obtain outside health insurance upon divorce is to file for legal separation. These couples become legally separated but remain married to maintain their health insurance benefits. This strategy is not always a permissible option under an employer's healthcare plan and the employee spouse may be charged with fraud and required to make financial restitution.

Beginning January 1, 2014, health insurance may not be such a financial hardship for the uninsured divorcing spouse. Health insurance may be more affordable and more accessible under the Affordable Care Act. Under this Act, health insurance companies will no longer be able to deny coverage or charge exorbitant premiums on the basis of a pre-existing condition. The knowledge of the spouse's ability to purchase affordable healthcare will take a significant amount of fear out of the divorce process.

Obamacare, Insurance, and DivorceSince health insurance is a factor considered in support calculations, divorce attorneys anticipate that Obamacare will also have an impact on that area of family law. When calculating child support, the Court will consider the health insurance premiums paid by both spouses and adjust accordingly. The "uninsured spouse" will typically be forced to pay extremely high premiums to obtain insurance and therefore his or her need for support is greater. This means that currently the supported spouse may argue for higher spousal support awards if they are obtaining new health insurance. With the introduction of Obamacare, the supported spouse may have a reduced need for support as healthcare may be more affordable. Additionally, many people may be eligible for a government tax credit toward their health insurance premiums. Undoubtedly, supporting spouses will ask family law judges to take this into considering when calculating support.

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With the Economy Improving, Divorce is on the Rise

Divorce on the riseAs we have previously blogged, the majority of couples going through a divorce experience extreme change in their financial situation as they begin untangling one household and establishing two. It seems a little counterintuitive to think that as our economy improves and the average San Diego resident can live a little more comfortably, that more and more people are getting divorced. However, couples have more economic stability today which tends to lessen the financial impact of divorce. Although more money doesn't necessarily lead to unhappy marriages, it does make divorce more practical and affordable for those who would like to end their marriages. During our recent recession many people chose to stay together because their houses were underwater or one or both spouses were unemployed.

Prior to the recession, typically the most valuable asset owned by divorcing couples was the martial residence. At divorce, the parties usually sold their home and began new lives with the net proceeds. During the recession, couples were unable to sell their homes and realize profits because many San Diego homes were underwater. Therefore, in the face of financial ruin and without any reasonable way to live two separate lives, parties remained married. In the past year, home prices have skyrocketed throughout San Diego. In addition, interest rates have been at a (near) historical low which would enable parties to purchase a smaller home with a manageable monthly payment using the proceeds from the sale of the marital residence. Afraid that the value of their home could plummet again, many couples filed for divorce.

In addition to having assets to divide, an improving economy also means that more people are employed (or have a reasonable expectation of being able to return to work) as they consider divorce. If both parties are able to work or one party is able to earn a higher income, they may be able to maintain two separate households once support is ordered. When jobs were harder to come by and many people were laid off after years of steady employment, numerous California residents struggled to support their family living in one household. For any family, there is only a finite amount of income to apportion for support and living expenses of the supporting spouse. When spouses are struggling to maintain one household, separating into two may not be an option.

Further, one or both parties may have more funds available to retain an attorney in an improving economy. Without the requisite legal knowledge required to navigate the divorce process in California, it is difficult for parties to proceed with a divorce. During the recession, many people could not afford to hire an experienced family law attorney to represent them and protect their interests. Therefore, rather than risk being steamrolled or reaching unfavorable agreements, many spouses decided to avoid divorce altogether.

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The 17-Year Divorce Case

When a San Diego couple first considers getting a divorce one of the most common questions is: "How long will it take to be divorced?" Experienced family law attorney's typically respond that there is no way to estimate the length of any given divorce case with any certainty. The length of time it takes to complete the divorce process is dependent on a number of factors, including:

  • The attitude of the parties
  • The parties' tolerance for litigation
  • The attorneys (if any) hired by the clients
  • The court's availability
  • The number and complexity of issues in the case

At a minimum, the parties must wait six months before they can officially terminate their marital status per the mandatory waiting period imposed by California Family Code 2339(a). However, this does not mean that the parties cannot settle all issues in their case and submit their final paperwork pending the conclusion of the six month waiting period.

17-year-divorce-case.jpgFor two Ohio law professors, their divorce and other related disputes has lasted 17 years...so far. The shocking length of this controversy is even more surprising considering the divorce has lasted 7 years longer than the 10 year marriage. This incredibly litigious divorce has resulted in over 1400 entries in the former couple's divorce file.

Most of the litigation began as a dispute over child custody and visitation. The parties have two children together who are currently ages 17 and 20. Now that one of the children is an adult and the other is nearly an adult, the parties will now turn the focus of their disputes on monetary issues still to be litigated.

Considering the legal background of the parties, most commentators are surprised that they were unable to resolve the majority of their disputes informally. In fact, the two attorneys were chastised by the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeal which wrote, "The parties, who are both law professors and ought to know better, engaged in thoroughly inappropriate behavior that was detrimental to the resolution of their case and to the welfare of their children for which both claimed to be primarily concerned."

The Ohio District Court of Appeal went as far as to say both professors should be admonished by the Ohio State Bar.

In California, a spouse can be sanctioned for engaging in conduct which frustrates the public policy to promote settlement in litigation. This is because in domestic cases it is generally in the best interest of both parties to resolve their differences out of court - especially when children are involved. This case is a good teaching tool which stands for the proposition that not all battles that can be won should be fought. In family law, there are rarely "winners" and "losers" in a case. Both parties tend to suffer through litigation both emotionally and financially. Most battles are not worth the time, effort, and money necessary to win in court.

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Divorce Disclosure Requirements and Offshore Assets

San Diego point lomaIn divorce cases where the parties have offshore assets, those assets are generally not reported to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS"). However, California family law imposes a strict fiduciary duty of disclosure on all divorcing spouses. Throughout the pendency of a divorce case, the parties are under an ongoing obligation to disclose all material facts and information regarding income, expenses, assets and debts.

This includes unreported income and assets hidden overseas. If a spouse has made efforts to conceal income or assets from the federal government he or she may feel very conflicted about disclosing that information in a state dissolution matter. Therefore, the spouse may be torn by a desire to cooperate with the divorce process and make full disclosures yet fearful of criminal and pecuniary penalties which may be imposed by the IRS. In many cases, both spouses may be aware of the offshore assets or at least suspect they exist.

If a California family court determines that a spouse has failed to meet the strict fiduciary disclosure requirements, he or she will likely be sanctioned in an amount sufficient to deter repetition of the impermissible conduct. In high asset/high income cases, the amount of the sanction could be staggering. In addition, failure to disclose an asset exposes the non-disclosing party to the possibility of the court awarding 100 percent or an amount equal to 100 percent of the asset to the other spouse. On the other hand, if a spouse's failure to disclose offshore assets and/or reportable income to the IRS is discovered by federal authorities, the spouse will likely face time in jail in addition to substantial financial penalties.

In these cases, the client has limited options. The client could attempt to amend prior tax returns to fully comport with IRS requirements and immediately disclose all hidden assets/income in the divorce case. If a client pursues this option, there is still no guarantee of avoiding federal prosecution. If this option is no longer available, the client could enter the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program ("OVDP"). The OVDP was started in 2012 and allows taxpayers to voluntarily disclose offshore assets before they are uncovered by other means. Entering the OVDP can help taxpayers avoid criminal prosecution; however, they will likely still face harsh financial penalties for nondisclosure.

It is incredibly risky for a divorcing spouse with hidden assets or income to fail to make efforts to become compliant with IRS regulations. In a divorce proceeding, attorneys and clients spend substantial time and resources digging into the finances of both parties. It is unlikely that hidden assets or income will remain uncovered under such scrutiny.

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How Will Divorce Affect My Social Security?

Effect of divorce on social securityDivorce can have a devastating effect on many aspects of the parties' lives. In some cases, the parties may not even realize the full effect of the divorce for years to come. For example, in the heat of litigation many spouses may not consider how divorce will impact their social security benefits. In order to get specific information regarding your case, it is important to consult with a divorce attorney who is a financial specialist. However, below are a few general principles to consider.

The first factor to consider in any social security analysis in the context of divorce is the date of separation, and accordingly, the length of the marriage. Neither spouse will be entitled to the other spouse's social security benefits unless the marriage lasted 10 years or more. A marriage which lasts 10 years or more is typically considered a "long-term marriage". For the purposes of spousal support, if a marriage lasts less than 10 years, the length of a spouse's spousal support obligation is generally limited to half the length of the marriage. In a marriage of long duration, the term of spousal support will likely not be limited to half the length of the marriage. Therefore, the length of the marriage will be a significant issue in the context of social security and the divorce in general.

If you are looking to collect social security benefits based on your former spouse's earning record, the next factor that your divorce attorney will ask you to consider is your marital status. You cannot collect social security benefits based on your former spouse's earning record if you are currently married. However, if you remarried following your divorce and your second marriage ended in death, divorce or annulment, you may still be able to collect social security benefits as a result of your first marriage. Further, the benefit you would collect based on your former spouse's earning record must be higher than what you are eligible to collect based on your own earning record.

In order to collect social security benefits as described above, you must meet age requirements and your spouse must meet eligibility requirements. The minimum age to collect social security benefits is age 62. In addition, your former spouse must be eligible to collect or currently receiving social security benefits. In other words, you cannot collect benefits based on your former spouse's income if he or she is not eligible to collect. If your former spouse is eligible to collect his or her social security benefits but has elected not to receive them yet, you must have been divorced for a minimum of two years before you can collect based on your former spouse's earnings. If you are considering a divorce, the effect it may have on your social security benefits is another factor to keep in mind when planning for your retirement years.

Read more from SSA.gov about qualifying for divorced spouse benefits

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Kris Jenner and Bruce Jenner Separated

It is no secret that Kris and Bruce Jenner have recently experienced some marital troubles. Kris Jenner has been in the public eye since her late ex-husband, Robert Kardashian, represented O.J. Simpson during his murder trial. Bruce Jenner has his own claim to fame as a gold-medal winning Olympian. Since their initial entrance on the public scene, Kris and Bruce Jenner have become reality T.V. celebrities by starring on the hit show, "Keeping Up with the Kardashians". "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" is a reality show that follows the life of the Kardashian-Jenner family. True to reality show fashion, the show chronicles the personal lives of Kris and Bruce, including their marital discord.

In the past few seasons of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" Kris and Bruce have been struggling with finding their own space in their shared family home. In order to reach some sort of compromise, the Jenners have experimented by renting out other homes for Bruce to stay in from time to time. Some of the Jenner children have criticized this marital arrangement by stating that it is one step toward divorce for the parties. The couple had previously announced that they were living separately but that they are much happier that way. The Jenner children have proven wise beyond their years when it comes to their observations about living apart and divorce. Kris and Bruce have now announced that they have completely separated. If the Jenners do pursue a formal divorce, their current living arrangement may greatly impact the divorce proceeding.

Under the California Family Code, all earnings and accumulations acquired by the parties during marriage is community property and divided equally upon divorce. All property acquired before marriage and after the date of separation is separate property and confirmed to the party that acquired it. The point at which the Court will draw a line in the sand between community and separate property is called the "date of separation". The Court will find that parties are separated when two criteria are met. First, the parties must be living separate and apart and second, at least one party must have the intent never to resume the martial relationship.

As Kris and Bruce Jenner are currently living separate and apart, it would not be difficult for one party to claim he or she had the requisite intent to end the marriage and therefore claim an earlier date of separation than the other. Another factor to take into consideration is the possibility that the Jenners have an enforceable premarital agreement, commonly known as a "pre-nup". As both Kris and Bruce had been married and divorced before they married each other, they would be prime candidates for a premarital agreement. In a premarital agreement the parties have an option to make agreements outside of default California community property laws thereby make other arrangements for distribution of earnings and accumulations during marriage in the event of divorce.

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